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Indigenous Q & A: Bob Joseph returns with a guide to make reconciliation a reality


Author of 21 Things You May Not know About the Indian Act has more helpful advice

Indigenous relations trainer Bob Joseph’s previous national best-selling book 21 Things You Didn’t Know About The Indian Act was a pointed and insightful look at the Indian Act, a policy that was passed in 1876 and since has shaped and controlled the lives of  Indigenous people. Now the author, along with Cynthia F. Joseph, is back with a guide to help people avoid missteps in their personal and business interactions with Indigenous people.

The book Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality is another accessible, eye-opening work and a must read for those who want to help in the moving forward of reconciliation.

Recently Joseph, a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation and president of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., took some time to answer a few questions.

Q: What made you want to do this book?

A: It’s funny, but I never planned to become an author as I’m fully occupied with the training and managing the business, but life has a way of presenting opportunities. This book followed the surprising success of my previous book 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act, which followed the surprising success of a blog article I wrote in 2015 about the Indian Act.

The blog article and the book brought the Indian Act to light and the majority of readers were shocked by what they learned. The feedback I receive from the 100K people who visit the blog every month and the volume of people downloading our ebooks really suggested that there was an opportunity to keep going, build on the previous book and keep trying to change the world.

Being an Indigenous person, I have a vested interest in making sure that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are communicating appropriately and understanding each other.

I also wrote the book because I had some concerns that the amazing groundswell of interest in reconciliation that has been growing since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and calls to action might lose momentum without context about challenges and issues that are a result of the Indian Act. We’ve come so far, I wanted to do what I could to prevent apathy from creeping in.

Q: You are not just an author but you are an Indigenous relations trainer. Can you tell me how you begin a session or class?

A: We begin with a land acknowledgement and then, for example, in our Indigenous Awareness sessions, we do a timeline exercise. I ask everyone to think of a date in history that is specific to Indigenous peoples and write a sentence to describe what they know about that date. I write their responses chronologically from the oldest to the most recent on a flip chart.

There are usually lots of entries about the very early history and lots of recent entries, but invariably there’s a huge gap of knowledge of Canadian history from about 1876 and 1982, which tells the learners that they don’t know what they don’t know. This exercise shows that we might not share the same sense of history even though we live in the same country. In intercultural communications people always bring their sense of history to the conversation so if we don’t share the exact same history then there’s lots of room for misunderstanding. That’s the message we try to establish at the beginning of the course.

Q: What do you hear from people at the end of working with them?

A: Typically what we hear is that everyone in Canada should take the courses as our training fulfils many of the TRC’s calls to action. The testimonials we receive are pretty incredible and range from people saying they had a total paradigm shift in how they think about interacting with Indigenous peoples to some saying that they couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day.

I am always humbled at how grateful people are to learn about Indigenous history, why we consult, what not to do or say, and how that information will help them with their daily interactions, consultation and engagement with Indigenous peoples.

Q: What do you hear from Indigenous peoples about your work?

A: I get a lot of “atta boy”, “keep it up”, “good on ya.” A lot of Indigenous people say that they appreciate that we are educating Canadians with our training but also appreciate that we run the blog and offer a lot of free resources on our website so that no matter what your budget, information is available. We also get a lot of positive feedback on social media and even individual emails from people who take the time to write and say “good work.”

Occasionally we get some negative feedback from Indigenous people who don’t think we should be doing what we’re doing but I believe in what we’re doing so am going to keep at it because I want to make the world a better place. If the critics don’t like what we’re doing and think they can do a better job, then they are welcome to do so and I will step back.

Q: How do you feel reconciliation is going?

A: It took us a long time to get where we are. We’re not going to turn this ship around in three to five years but give it 12 to 15 years and we’ll see quite a different country. We’ve only just begun the process of reconciliation.

Governments and corporations are putting together reconciliation action plans and individuals are beginning to implement their personal and professional pledges of reconciliation. Obviously, I would like to see change sooner than later but it’s a big process that involves all Canadians and because of that, it will take time.

Q: Your last book 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act is a bestseller. What is it about that book do you think that struck a chord?

A: I think it surprised people to learn how pervasive and far-reaching the Indian Act was, and that it still exists. The book exposed the act’s intentions that were often disguised as good intentions, that it was trying to improve the lives of a segment of society, which I think really resonated with people. And again, more of “I don’t know what I don’t know” in relation to Canadian history.

Timing also is a component in the book’s success, coming as it did after the publication of the TRC’s report on residential schools, which is one of the 21 aspects of the act that the book covers. It is unlikely that five years ago a book about the Indian Act would have become a national bestseller.

Understanding the Indian Act is key to reconciliation because it is that piece of legislation that created the misconceptions, economic, health and social challenges and barriers that Indigenous peoples live with on a daily basis. I think Canadians want to learn about what was basically swept under the carpet. They are ready to hear the hard truths so that they can find opportunities for reconciliation.

Q: If you could wave a magic wand and make government do anything right now, what would that be?

A: Get rid of the Indian Act. Support Indigenous people in their return to self-determination, self-government and self-reliance; the Indian Act works against all three of those objectives. The nations that have achieved one or all of those objectives are doing well, are strengthening their cultures, their economies, their nationhood, and are contributing to the local economies and the well-being of the country.

The fear of bringing fundamental change is that people think it will cost too much. But when you start to really look at it, it costs too much to maintain the status quo. It can’t continue as it is.

Q: Now where are we as a country? Are you hopeful? Angry?

A: I am really hopeful and excited about the future. Compared to where we were as a country 20 years ago we are now in a completely different place. It may not be fast enough for everyone’s taste and it may not be considered enough by everyone, but we are making progress.

We see so much more work with communities on resource development and policy development. We see the courts upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples and opening up the way to move the policy mountains that have blocked progress for so long.

We see so many amazing Indigenous people out there working hard for their nations, learning their languages, promoting their cultures, building bridges of understanding.

In my work, I literally meet thousands of people every year who want to help change the world. Our blog averages 100K visitors a month! That’s a lot of interest in Indigenous peoples! When I started the blog in 2012, we had 5K monthly visitors — that’s a significant growth in interest. And so many of the visitors are university and high school students and educators — those are people who will definitely shape our future.

How could I not feel hopeful?

dgee@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dana_gee

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